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The Adventures of Prince Achmed

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Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed

Duchamp (1887-1968), of course, you know well: the aristocratic lapsed painter, dedicated chess player, intermittent cross-dresser, sometime art adviser and sardonic, unsentimental pioneer who, as Donald Judd put it, invented fire — that is, he found the first found object

In 1919, with Duchamp as her muse, Dreier more or less invented the concept of the modern-art museum, which she envisioned as an institution of international scope dedicated to making the art of the moment comprehensible to the public, through exhibitions, publications, lectures, concerts and a library. She would later, somewhat painfully, watch Alfred Barr bring the idea to fruition in the 1930’s with the Museum of Modern Art, helped by a more diplomatic personality and substantially more financial support. (Dreier was no Rockefeller.) 

Dreier and Duchamp both exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show but did not meet until 1916. Their friendship deepened the next year, after Duchamp’s urinal was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists, which Dreier had helped found. No one knows the extent of their intimacy.

Before 1920 Dreier divided her time between America and Europe, studying, making and collecting art; exhibiting; and establishing a network of artists and dealers. Determined to make the United States more receptive to the new, she joined with Duchamp and the American artist Man Ray to form an organization she initially called the Modern Ark, until Man Ray suggested the Société Anonyme.

On April 30, 1920, Société Anonyme opened an exhibition and a library in two small rented rooms on East 47th Street. Dreier appended to the name of this fledgling organization “The Museum of Modern Art: 1920.”

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